Loss cuts many ways.
When our lovely friend and club wicket keeper died seven years ago, a small group of us sat in the Queen’s Head in Steep and did that thing you do when something like that happens. We did it in reaction to someone saying: ‘something must be done’.
Now, the thing about terminal cancer is that everything has already been done that can be. Operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, palliative care, morphine, prayers and then the long pause when the clock falls silent, and you realise the sheer magnitude of the gap between someone who is only just alive, and only just dead. It seems obvious, but it takes sitting with someone who has just passed away to know it. I didn’t sit with my friend at the end, but I have sat with others. Like an old valve television that has just been switched off, the light on the middle of the screen phones bright, then dim, and then suddenly disappears, leaving the room utterly changed and empty.
What we decided to do was mark his life with each of the three of us doing a challenge with 2012 in the title. Mine was to run 2012 miles during the year, a ridiculous intrusion on my knees, ankles, heart, family and dogs. It basically meant running 5.5 miles a day, which became 11 if you missed one, and just about a marathon if you missed three. It was a year of travel, so I ran in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. I ran down the Danube in Belgrade before even the fishermen had got up; along the boardwalk on Lake Michigan in 10 degrees of frost. I ran around a park in Taipei when everyone else was doing static tai chi, and even, one childish night, along a Channel Tunnel train so that I could say that I had run underground. But mostly, I pounded the roads and lanes of the GU28 postcode area, and I ran my final mile in Petworth Park on New Year’s Eve. Simon swam and ran his; Richard cycled, and between us, due to the generosity of our friends and families, we eventually clocked up £59000 of funds for Kidney Cancer UK.
The wheels ground exceedingly slowly, as KC (UK) was undergoing a complicated merger at the time, and it took until 2016 for their Chief Executive to come over to Sussex and give us the big idea, which was to part fund a Phd into the early markers of kidney cancer. He met us for a second time in the St Pancras Hotel, and introduced us to the eminent surgeon under whose guidance the Phd would be conducted. It turned out that, as a baby, she had been a Vietnamese Boat refugee in a boat called the Skyluck that had rammed itself into the outlying Hong Kong island of Lantau in 1979 when I was a soldier there. I might have seen her there, met her even. Later on, she sent me old press cuttings of the aftermath, and it became an additional bond between us. We didn’t talk about it, but we knew, all the same.
These research projects take a long time to get going, and it wasn’t until yesterday that we finally went back up to the Royal Free Hospital to meet Maxine again, and make the acquaintance of the exceptional Portuguese doctor doing the project. It turned out that the scope of the research had increased, and was now looking not only at the early signs, but the efficacy of cryo-surgery, and the adaption of treatments to deal with the exact proteins that a specific tumour was identified as feeding on. As a non technical soul, I was blown away by all the explanation, doubly so to find out that our little bit of seed capital had been instrumental in subsequently persuading the Medical Research Council to fund the whole four year research programme, consumables and all. We could sit in that stuffy room in the basement of the Royal Free, and track the whole thing back to that meeting in the Queen’s Head.
So two things, in fact.
A bunch of three people in a pub one Wednesday evening, devastated at the shatteringly quick demise of a true friend and lovely bloke, and without the vaguest bit of medical knowledge between them, started something almost inadvertently that just kept rolling and rolling. Not because they were special, or were any sadder or more motivated than anyone else, but because that is how life actually works from time to time. Sometimes, all you can do is fire the arrow in the air. But you have to actually fire it.
Secondly, if I ever wondered about the fulfilment of infintessimally small life chances, I just need to think about the baby on that beach in 1979. Near starving, filthy, bombed out of her home a thousand miles away and lucky to make it through the outer cordon of pirates in the South China Sea, her journey from that beach ended up 39 years later with her routinely saving lives in one of the most sophisticated hospitals in Europe.
Nothing is as it seems. Fire the arrow.